Friday, July 31, 2015

Day dreamin'

I have a friend — a kindred spirit — who likes to daydream the way I do. When we're together we create extravagant, intricate fantasies in which everything is well and ends well.

Last year, we constructed a fantasy in which we moved to the Scottish countryside for a few years of doctoral study. The cottage in which we spent most of our time was nestled in the verdant hills, just off a country lane. My friend, Joe, wanted to be sure the cottage would have "rustic hard wood floors, a small but sturdy oak dining table, and a kitchen window overlooking a quaint, organic garden blooming with tomatoes, carrots and herbs."

"Yes, yes!" I exclaimed. "And the cottage will have all sorts of large windows (and a bench seat under one window) with sweeping views of the countryside. And there must be a rose garden. And there must be a nook for tea time, and I hope we take high tea everyday."

"AH!" he responded. "How could I forget the bench seat?! I am a fool! I expect nothing less than high tea on a daily basis."

In very little time, we'd created a dream in high definition, complete with hand-painted dishes, freshly preserved marmalade, and rousing tea-time discussions with "tart philosophers, soulful poets, eccentric musicians (preferably fiddlers), colorful authors, brooding psychoanalysts, and elderly widows and widowers of gentrified birth." Our neighbors, Betsy and William, would own a cow and would have their freckled, dimpled 9-year old, Billy, bring us fresh cream every morning. To go with the marmalade and scones, of course. We would churn all leftover cream into butter, which we would sell at the local farmer's market.

Oh, and there's so much more.

Our dreams are often extravagant, but they're not too far outside the realm of realistic possibility. It's the twinge of realism that makes them so sweet. It's unlikely we'll ever realize our Scottish cottage fantasy, but we've both toyed with the idea of doing graduate studies at St. Andrews, so our dreams could have come true. Dreams that could come true are one of my favorite escapes from real life when the going gets tough. They breathe a little bit of hope into dark times.

I've been trying to escape my life into the Land of Daydreams lately. I try to dream about traveling to Spanish-speaking countries or meeting a good guy on an airplane, but these dreams feel too far-fetched after so many months in bed. It's hard to imagine that I'll ever again be able to participate in life enough to travel abroad or date. So lately, I've steered clear of these kinds of dreams. The hope they instill isn't sturdy enough.

But gosh. I need some place to which I can escape. I need a dream that feels magical but could still be realized one day. So I've started daydreaming about the escapades I want to have with Jesus in heaven. I ask myself, "If I were with Jesus right now, in the flesh, what would I want to do with him?" Often, before I enter into these daydreams, I ask God to help me dream. I'm hoping he'll reach in and drop a sparkling idea that makes my heart skip a beat.

The other day I imagined Jesus and I were jumping on a trampoline so big I couldn't see its borders. It is just the two of us at first, bouncing and laughing as you only can when you're flying and flailing. There are hundreds of colorful water balloons on the trampoline, too, bouncing high in the air alongside us but somehow never getting under foot.

After awhile, hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people appear and join us. Everywhere, there are colorful balloons and people laughing with glee, delighting in God's company and in each other, and marveling at the ways we reflect the God we're getting to know so well.  Sometimes, a water balloon pops, but instead of water drenching an unsuspecting jumper, small beads of light cascade out of the balloons, each glistening with a different color. There is light confetti everywhere.

A dream that really, truly could come true. I hope it does.

Hey God, I hope this dream comes true, okay? Maybe Moses, Elisabeth Elliot, and my grandpa can help you fill all those water balloons. In the meantime, I'll be rallying as many trampoline troops as I can down here. I'll tell them about your love, and I'll pray for them, and I'll do my best love them like you do. And hey, would you use this sickness of mine to somehow draw people to you? I'd love it that trampoline were extra full because of my sickness. That would be just the greatest.

Thanks, God.



© by scj

Sunday, July 26, 2015


My friends,

Whew. This season continues to be so hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in the grandstands watching this disease march deeper into my body, slowly compromising new systems and creating new symptoms. It’s scary watching my body do things without my permission. And it’s hard not to worry about what it may decide to do tomorrow, or next week. Sometimes my fearful thoughts swoop in like a pack of frantic bats, swarming my sensibilities and pecking away at my peace.

I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms for fighting off anxiety or despair since I got sick years ago. I say “at least” a lot. Hey, I may be stuck in bed but “at least I can still work on this writing project”; or, “at least I can go on a short walk if I rest in bed for a few days beforehand”; or, “at least I can pray for people.”

Most of my “at leasts” are about being productive and creative. When I was a kid I assumed work was something God implemented after the Fall of Man — it was part of the curse. But when I revisited the Genesis account as a young adult, I discovered work was part of God's plan for Adam and Eve in the very the beginning. God created us to work and take deep pleasure in it. Unfortunately, as a result of the Fall, there are all sorts of “thorns” and “thistles” that frustrate our efforts; but even still: it's good to be able to work. When I can be a bit productive while stuck in bed, I feel like I’m able to do a little of what God’s created me to do. It’s all sorts of satisfying.

I'd hoped to pick blackberries today. It always brings me such delight after a 20-hour day in bed. But today I discovered our neighborhood blackberry thicket had been uprooted and removed. A plot of upturned dirt remains in its stead. I suppose the removal of these bushes is a small thing in the scope of life, but it feels big to me.

Slowly, my sickness has made it nearly impossible to do lots of things that bring me pleasure. Most of the time, my neurological symptoms make it nearly impossible to read and write coherently, so I’ve laid aside a beloved writing project and stack of unread books. Every now and then my body lets me go to the grocery store or on a walk, but most of the time, my fatigue and a host of other symptoms keep me in bed all day.

Lately, I feel too sick to pray much more than one-word feeble prayers. "Help." And now my blackberry bushes, one of the last of my "at leasts," are gone. I cried when I told my mom about the bushes this evening. "I'm tired of losing things," I lamented.

This week I realized my "at leasts" aren't just about the pleasure of work; they're also about trying to create a life of value. Losing the last of my “at leasts” makes me feel like a tired lump of bones wasting away in bed. Without them my life feels purposeless.

Sometimes I wonder why God’s keeping me around. "How could you possibly use this sickness for your Kingdom purposes when I’m stuck in bed?” I ask him. He hasn’t answered with words lately, but he does keep my heart beating, which I suppose is sort of like saying, “Just trust me that you’re worth keeping around, okay, kid?”

My life felt similarly worthless the first time I got really sick five years ago, but back then, God seemed closer than he does now. For years, when I’d wake up in the morning I’d feel the Spirit of God hovering protectively over me. When I’d eat breakfast, I’d feel Jesus sitting with me at the table. Sometimes, the Spirit of God would talk to me with a clarity I hadn't experienced before.

I didn’t have much to offer God back then. I mostly just laid in bed and breathed and blinked. And yet, I felt more enveloped in God’s love than ever before. It was as if…as if he loved me even when I had nothing to offer him but my body and heart. Wonder of wonders.

When I was a kid I discovered that Jesus loves me no matter what. I've believed it ever since. But when I got sick I realized we have two kinds of beliefs: conscious beliefs and subconscious beliefs. Conscious beliefs are the beliefs we’re aware of – they’re the beliefs we readily espouse to others when they ask: “Jesus loves me, this I know (for the Bible tells me so).”

Our subconscious beliefs are harder to identify because we’re not often aware of them. They make themselves known, though, in our knee-jerk reactions to life’s curve balls. That’s when the disconnect between the things we believe in in our heads and the things we believe in our hearts is revealed.

The first long round of acute illness taught me that although I consciously believed Jesus loved me, I subconsciously believed I needed to make myself valuable by doing a heck of a lot more than breathing and blinking. So I was stunned and delighted to experience what I believed: that God really loved me when I had nothing important or successful to give him. He loved me — not because I was an athlete, or scholar, or sister, or daughter, or musician, but because I was me, created by Him. The experience made those first years of sickness feel like a wonderful gift.

This week, now that the last of my "at leasts" is gone, I'm reminded afresh of just how hard it is to rest in God's undying love for me. Sometimes I forget how much he loves me, but most of the time I just doubt it. My heart has trouble believing what my head believes: that a perfect God would stoop to delight in little me. I still feel like I need to build value into my life. A pile of tired bones that reads and writes and goes on occasional walks is worth having around, but a pile of tired bones that watches tv and naps all day? Eh. Those piles aren't as valuable. Those aren't the piles our culture affirms and celebrates.

During the apostle Paul's ministry, the Corinthian Christians began posturing for power and position in the church based on who mentored them. Those who were mentored by Paul thought they should have power and influence, but those who were mentored by Apollos thought they were better leadership candidates. It was a fight to prove whose associations made their leadership services more valuable.

Timothy Keller, in his little book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, points out that Paul responds to the Corinthians by giving the Corinthians a new way of thinking about their self worth:

"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not judge even myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me." (1 Cor. 4:3-4)

Here, Paul explains that his identity is not the result of people's opinions about him. The judgements of others don't matter to him. Moreover, his identity isn't even informed by his own opinions about himself. And his clear conscience certainly isn't settling the matter of his identity. No, it's God's judgements that determine Paul's identity.

Keller says that word translated "innocent" comes from the word "justify" — the same word Paul uses throughout Romans and Galatians. Paul is looking for a courtroom verdict about his identity. We all are looking for this verdict. "Every single day we are on trial," Keller writes. "Everyday, we put ourselves back in a courtroom." Everyday we're either providing evidence for the defense or the prosecution in this trial to determine our worth.

But Paul has discovered the secret to having an identity that doesn't hang on the opinions of people, himself included: he is no longer on trial. He doesn't have to show up to the courtroom each day to prove himself worthy. When Jesus died on the cross, he took Paul's place in that courtroom, and the Judge, Father God, found Jesus innocent.

The Bible makes it clear: when we repent of our sins and place our trust in God, Christ's courtroom verdict becomes our courtroom verdict. God imputes Christ's innocence to us. So that now, we can relate to God the way Jesus relates does. Now, God can say of us, "This is my son, my daughter, with whom I am well pleased." This is the final courtroom verdict for Christians.

For every other religion, our performance in the celestial courtroom determines the ultimate verdict about our value and worth. But for the follower of Jesus, God's courtroom verdict is our starting place: "Accepted; delightful; loved no matter what. Court adjourned." God's courtroom verdict means we don't need to spend the rest of our days trying to build value into our lives. Our opinions and "at leasts" don't matter anymore.*

If you are stuck in bed for months, or years, and you can't do much more than stare at the ceiling, God is still dancing over you with delight. If you are working a discouraging job that feels utterly unimportant, or you are failing at friendship, or you are single and lonely, or you are barren and discouraged, or you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, well, then you are accepted, delightful, and loved no matter what.

I've been looking forward to heaven a lot this year. Some afternoons you'll find me in bed, day dreaming about sitting with Jesus at the piano and composing a symphony that, in a surprising turn of events, smells as glorious as it sounds. Other days you'll find me imagining he and I are climbing a big ol' pine tree that stretches to the Milky Way. But this week, I've been looking backwards at the cross and empty tomb. The cross and empty tomb remind us of the startling, jaw-dropping courtroom verdict that changes everything.

The cross and the tomb also remind us that if we want to live fully, freed from all the false ideas we have about our value and love-ability, then we're going to have to first learn loss, weakness, and the death of our old selves — the selves that tell us lies about our self-worth. It's when sickness, or financial ruin, or relational brokenness swallow up the last of our "at leasts" that God re-teaches us that we are completely, wholly enough because He is enough.

This makes it all worth it, doesn't it? The Gospel of Jesus is the only thing that makes this all worth it. Praise Him for the cross and the empty tomb! And praise him for his relentless mercy that teaches us again and again how wide, high, and deep His love for us really is.

Praying today that God gives us each special grace to rest in the paradoxical Gospel miracles he works in our hardship.

And as always, cheering for ya, Skillets.


*Timothy Keller's book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness informed a lot of these thoughts.

© by scj

Friday, July 17, 2015

Looking forward

One of my doctors recently reminded me of the importance of building things into my life that I can look forward to. He said it's essential for healing. I've been struggling to do this well the last several months because my body limits me in so many ways, so I've started asking God to give me things each week that make my life feel full and exciting, if even for a moment.

Here's how he's provided lately:

1. Most days I look forward to walking down the street to pick blackberries for dessert after dinner.

If you could somehow lick summer, it would taste like blackberries. Every season has a taste, I think. Fall tastes like baked apples, fresh off the tree in the backyard. Winter tastes like peppermint hot chocolate. Spring tastes like citrus, at least in the sunny southwest it does (how might spring taste to you?). And summer tastes like blackberries.

2. During a few trips to the blackberry thicket this week, I picked extra berries to set aside for baking. I've been on a strict vegetables, fruit, and turkey diet for several months, but this week I caved and made warm blackberry scones topped with clotted coconut cream. And of course, there was tea. There is always tea.

 Who says grain, egg, dairy and refined sugar-free baked goods can't be GOOD!

My coconut clotted cream needed more time to "clot"

Also, scones and tea are solid proof for God's existence.

3. Several days ago I escaped the house for a bit to see my childhood best friend, Lauren, and her two sweet kiddos.

Lauren and I were thick as thieves growing up. We also had a penchant for crazy costumes (and crazy escapades to accompany them):

This is from a picture book I made for Lauren when I was a young thang. Now, her daughter loves it when Lauren "reads" the book to her before bed.

Lauren's a full-grown wife and mom now, but some things never change. She still has a silly streak and a readiness to laugh. I love that about her. It's been almost three decades since the birth our friendship and we still have lots of fun together.

Here's the crew:

Oops! Lauren's eyes are closed.

Let's try again:

 Oh no, we lost you, Ben!

One more time:

Viv, where'd you go?

Alright, again.

 Oh boy. Sarah's down for the count.

Next time. Next time we'll capture all four pairs of hazely green eyes in the same photo.

4. On Tuesday a friend, C, who has prayed faithfully for me on this journey of sickness, stopped by to give me a beautiful quilt she'd made for me.

The inside of the quilt is made out of flannel. It's so very soft.

The outside looks like a garden.

What a treasure.

5. The sunset skies these days. They make me want to fly. And paint. And write music. 

Happy Friday, friends. I hope you have all sorts of things to look forward to this weekend.

Cheering for ya, Skillets,


© by scj

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Happy things...

...four of 'em:

1. Yesterday I ventured out of the house to the grocery store. (Two cheers for that!) While walking from my car to the store I passed a blond boy, about the age of 4, standing a few feet from his mom who was putting a baby sibling in the mini van. The boy, oblivious to his mom's efforts to get all the kids in the car, stood stoutly, brandishing a wooden sword, its PVC pipe sheath secured at his side. He was a fierce knight to be reckoned with. No doubt all the grocery store dragons hid cowering in the produce section.

The whole thing brought me loads of delight.

2. My mom just painted this darling band of lawn frogs.

If this band's music was discernible to the human ear (no doubt it's discernible to the gnome next to the petunias) we'd probably classify it as a jazzy big band jam. These frogs are endearing for more than their music, though. I also love them for their buns.

Frog buns.

Did you know those were a thing?

These guys don't have the cowboy flair that Marlboro Man does, but they are nonetheless worth broadcasting to the world.

Sorry, frogs.

Please don't stop serenading us over this.

3. Last night my folks and I ate dinner outside. We've had a hot spell here so it was nice to relax in the shade.

The tree in the center of the photo is full of BABY APPLES!

I had my eyes dilated for a doctor's appointment so it was sunglasses into the evening hours for me, man.

After dinner I walked down the street and picked blackberries for dessert. There are a few things that make me feel transported back to childhood, and blackberry picking is one of them.

Side note: when I was a kid, I loved dreaming up inventions that made blackberry picking easier. For example, instead of using a bucket to collect berries, I cut a large hole in a milk jug and then strapped the jug to my waist by slipping my belt through its handle. I don't remember if I was the originator of this idea, but the innovative get-up certainly inspired other ideas for inventions, such as a protective suit that allows pickers to wade deep into the bushes to get the hiding berries, or an arm that picks the fattest, ripest berries way up high. These contraptions would ensure an abundantly fruitful berry picking excursion.

4. I'm going stir-crazy. All this time in bed. A summer full of cerulean skies, and some of the best hiking and camping in the world at my fingertips. Boy what I'd give for a good, sweaty hike. But, since that's not an option right now, I decided to add a little action to my day and take my lunch up the street to the Washington State University campus. It's a stunning campus with wide open spaces, mountain views, forest glens, and thickets of blackberries. It's also got some great picnicking rocks.

See! Plenty of room to spread out, snack, and soak up the sun.

Perks of a picnic outing:
  • the view of Mt. Hood
  • the singsong of the field birds
  • an impish breeze
  • wearing something other than sweats (a cute pair of neon Nike shorts Sister gave me!)
  • food tastes better outside

Picnics are one of the best things of life, aren't they?

Happy Wednesday, folkaroos.

Cheering for ya — every last one of ya.


© by scj

Monday, July 6, 2015

Bed Rest

I've been on pretty strict bed rest the last week, which means I spend all day sprawled out on my bed, the couch, or the easy chair next to the big window upstairs.

I'm used to bed rest, but I'm also used to having pockets of time when my body lets me climb out of bed and go on a walk or have a short dance party. These breaks added a little action to my week. However, it turns out these breaks were not helping me get healthy the way I'd hoped they would. Rats. Exercise is normally great for the immune system (especially dancing!), but, as many of my doctors have reminded me, I'm not "normal sick," so for now I rest and I rest and I rest.

As a result, I have very little interesting blogging fodder right now. One day I'd like to write about all the spiritual lessons I'm wrestling through as I rest, but my brain fog is far too thick to accommodate any real writing right now. So I blog. About generally un-noteworthy things.

For example:

1. My doctor wants me to put 1/2 teaspoon of salt in my drinking water twice a day. This is not the easiest concoction to down so I've started squeezing lemon and grapefruit juice into the mix. Alas, salty grapefruit juice is not my jam, but drink it I must. So, I've taken to pretending I'm sipping salt-rimmed margaritas on the French Riviera. I suppose a nice Bordeaux is much better suited to the Riviera, but I say: when life (or the doctor) hands you a tub of salt and a bag of grapefruits, if you feel like drinking the concoction on the French Rivera, then honey, IT'S OFF TO THE FRENCH RIVIERA WE GO!

2. I started detoxing yesterday and today I can feel the medicine pulling toxins out of my body's nooks and crannies. I've got what I suspect is a nice little toxin-induced headache settling in. But you guys, I am so glad to finally be doing something to (hopefully) improve my health that I have never been so excited about a headache in my life. Welcome, Headache. You are a sign of MOVEMENT. I love movement, especially if it's toxins leaving their hiding places.

3. This is a picture I took a few weeks ago, back when I was wild and crazy and went on occasional evening walks:

This rabbit was still as stone, utterly transfixed on something I could not see. I pulled out my phone to snap a photo of him but my phone was full, so I quickly deleted some old photos, hoping the rabbit wouldn't hop away in the meantime. He didn't so much as wiggle his nose. But my phone still wouldn't take a photo, so I re-started it, and in the time it took to reboot my phone the rabbit remained frozen.

Hmmm. How strange. Could it be a fake rabbit that someone had placed on the lawn for kicks? I walked toward it until I was just a few feet away, but he was still frozen. Was he petrified? Paralyzed? Stiff with rigor mortis? Just then, his little nose wiggled. He was alive! And yet, still glued to the ground.

Sweet heavens, why was he so still and unafraid of me? In Fairyland, he might have had a spell cast upon him by some rather impish pixies. In our land, he might have seen an angel standing a few feet ahead of him, like Balaam's donkey. I liked that thought. It's nice to imagine the spiritual world around us, full of angels watching over God's people.

A few seconds later, I crept near enough to pet Mr. Rabbit, and he darted away into a nearby bush. I never saw him again.

The end.

I apologize for subjecting you to such a pointless story.

Annnd that's a wrap. Thanks for listening in, folks.

As always, cheering for ya, Skillets.

Happy Monday,


© by scj

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A verdict (and steps forward)

Well, folks, we have a WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER. Several of my Facebook friends gave me some bone broth advice, and the verdict is in: chicken bones are the way to go. They smell better and take less time to cook (just 24 hours). A few people suggested cooking the broth in a Crock-pot in the garage, which sounds like a guh-reat plan to me. Sorry, neighbors: your odds of smelling my broth have just increased by at least three. Although, this time around, the smell should be much more pleasant. Just be thanking your lucky stars that I didn't decide to cook BEEF bone broth in the garage. 

If you prayed about my doctor's appointment yesterday, thank you. I'm happy to report that the doctor I saw yesterday (Dr. V.) was systematic (YAY FOR SYSTEMS!), detail-oriented, knowledgeable, and familiar with cases like mine. His protocol aligns with the things we talked about in our consultation (not a given, I've discovered) as well as some of the hopes I had for a treatment plan. The N.D. I saw a few weeks ago didn't end up being as helpful as I'd hoped, so it feels good to find someone who seems like they'll be a good fit for my needs. We're finally taking steps forward, baby.

Dr. V. thinks lyme is a strong possibility and wants to do further testing for co-infections often present with lyme. He also wants to check for parasites and a few dozen other things -- other pathogens, vitamins, minerals etc. So it's back to the labs for more bloodwork etc.

In the meantime, I've started Phase One of the doctor's protocol. This phase will (hopefully) prepare my body for the antimicrobial treatment at a later stage. Over the next week, I will systematically introduce new items to Phase One's protocol with the goal of boosting a few systems and beginning to pull toxins out of my body. Pathogens are nasty little toxin-creators, so bodies overrun with pathogens tend to have way more toxins than your average healthy body. I'm praying that the protocol, especially the detoxing, won't cause any complications and will be wonderfully effective in nudging me toward healing. I'm also praying that my body's responsiveness (or lack of responsiveness) to certain things will help us figure out all that's ailing me. 

Let the puzzle pieces continue to emerge!

Hoping your Thursday is grand (and cheering for you, Skillets),


© by scj